NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

Why does the President tweet about stock market levels but not our poverty rate?

Since July 1, President Trump has tweeted to celebrate the results of the U.S. stock market nine times and has tweeted about strong jobs numbers thirteen times. His frequent tweeting about these two metrics appears to indicate that they are his key indicators for assessing how we are doing as a country. It is worth noting, however, that during this timeframe not once has he tweeted about the “poverty rate” in the U.S. Why not?

Yes, the U.S. stock market, as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average, seems to be doing well as the Dow posted record closing highs all of last week. This, however, should not be too surprising. Since 2013, the U.S. stock market has hit a new high closing record 157 times (123 times under President Obama, 34 times under President Trump). Here’s another way of looking at it: The U.S. stock market has hit an all-time high in 30 of the last 54 months. In other words, the U.S. stock market has been doing well for quite some time now, meaning the record-breaking numbers that the President is tweeting about aren’t quite as rare as they might seem.

What should be surprising and alarming is the fact that the President does not seem to view the U.S. poverty rate as a key indicator of how America is doing.

In a recent article Politico points out that economists have frequently found little relationship between returns on stock investments and real economic growth. Instead, it appears that a strong stock market helps the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, through the increasing income inequality gap. The article points out, “about 80 percent of the value of the stock market is held by the richest 10 percent of the nation; the vast majority of gains in share value accrue to the rich, not to most Americans.”

Understanding and tracking the poverty rate in the United States and in North Carolina is important because it is an indicator of whether the economy is delivering opportunity for all. It goes without saying that the greatest country in the world, and the one with strongest economy, should not have a high number of people that are poor.

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Environment, Trump Administration

DEQ hosts more public listening sessions on Atlantic Coast Pipeline; new FERC members bode ill for opponents

Hundreds of people turned out in Rocky Mount to comment on the water quality and riparian buffer impacts of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Another listening session is scheduled for next week in Rocky Mount, as well as in Jackson and Lumberton.(Photo: Lisa Sorg)

If you missed the recent public hearings on the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, you have three more chances to speak your mind before state environmental officials.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality is holding additional public listening sessions about the project, which will cross parts of eight eastern North Carolina counties, including low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

  • Tuesday, Aug. 15: Nash Community College, 522 N. Old Carriage Road., Rocky Mount
  • Wednesday, Aug. 16: Northampton County Cultural and Wellness Center, 9536 NC. Hwy. 305, Jackson.
  • Thursday, Aug. 17: Southeastern Agricultural Center, 1027 US Hwy. 74, Lumberton.

Speaker registration and sign-in for all three listening sessions will start at 5:30 p.m. The listening sessions will begin at 6 p.m.

After two public hearings in July, DEQ is still accepting written comments on water quality and riparian buffer rules for the ACP through Aug. 19 at 5 p.m. Via snail mail, send them to 401 Permitting, 1617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC. 27699-1617. Written comments may also be submitted by email to PublicComments@ncdenr.gov. Please be sure to include “ACP” in the email’s subject line.

The comments will be forwarded to FERC, which has final approval of the pipeline. Until earlier this month, FERC did not have a quorum under the Trump administration, meaning the commission could not issue decisions on any projects. But as of Aug. 3, the US Senate confirmed Trump nominees Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to FERC, filling two of three vacancies. These appointments don’t bode well for pipeline opponents. Chatterjee previously served as energy policy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In that position, Chatterjee helped push for Senate approval of the Keystone and was among congressional officials who opposed US participation in the Paris Agreement.

Powelson worked as a commissioner on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. He  supports both fracking and natural gas pipelines. Before  a group of industry representatives, he compared opposition to what he views as a term for war. “The jihad has begun,” StateImpact Pennsylvania quoted Powelson as saying. “At the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission groups actually show up at commissioners homes to make sure we don’t get this gas to market. How irresponsible is that?”

New to the pipeline discussion?

NCPW has reported on the potential damage to the environment and to underserved communities.

FERC released a draft environmental impact statement and a final version, both of which were incomplete — even at 1,000-plus pages — and omitted or downplayed many key issues.

Environment, Trump Administration

At the beach? Put down the umbrella drink and head to a public meeting about offshore drilling

(Photo: Wikicommons)

North Carolina’s coast, which has so far eluded capture by the energy companies, is again in the crosshairs for offshore oil and gas exploration. And this time, the rigs could be just three miles from the shoreline.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is preparing its 2019–2024 national Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing program, including lease sales in the mid-Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf for exploration and drilling. The area is under consideration because President Trump issued an executive order on April 28 opening it to lease sales. Trump’s order would overrule the Obama administration’s 2017–2022 gas and leasing program, which  excluded the Atlantic and Pacific Outer Continental Shelves. The proposed new five-year lease plan (2019–2024), though, would replace its predecessor and greatly expand the ocean waters to drilling.

You can comment directly to the BOEM or via the NC Department of Environmental Quality, which is seeking public input and information on the potential impact of oil and gas exploration and development on the biological, social, economic and aesthetic values of North Carolina’s coast.

State environmental officials will hold three public hearings about the program. All of them will run from 5–7 p.m.

  • Monday, Aug. 7,  New Hanover Government Center, 230 Government Center Drive, Suite 135, Wilmington
  • Wednesday, Aug. 9, Crystal Coast Civic Center, 3505 Arendell St., Morehead City.
  • Thursday, Aug. 10, Dare County Government Complex, 954 Marshall Collins Drive, Manteo

People can also comment via email or snail mail:  timothy.webster@ncdenr.gov or   Timothy Webster, 217 . Jones St., 1601 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC, 27699-1601.: All comments are due by Aug. 15. Comments made to state officials will be forwarded to the  Bureau of Ocean Energy Management .

NCPW has featured two stories about the ecological damage caused by seismic testing, the precursor to offshore drilling, on June 26 and July 5.

Environment, Trump Administration

Clean Air Carolina, SELC sue Trump administration over rollback of pollution standards

(Photo: Creative Commons)

Four environmental groups, including two from North Carolina, are suing the Federal Highway Administration over its sudden suspension of key greenhouse gas rules. Those rules would have required states to track and reduce pollution from cars and trucks — a major source of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Clean Air Carolina, based in Charlotte, is being represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill, the Natural Resources Defense Council and US PIRG. The groups filed their lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The suit asks the court to invalidate the suspension, meaning that the pollution standard would go into immediate effect.

The reversal is emblematic of many of the Trump administration’s rollbacks of Obama-era rules. Under President Obama, the FAST Act and MAP-21, required the Highway Administration to make several rules. One of them mandated that states measure and reduce levels of carbon dioxide emitted from cars and trucks, which generate most of the pollution in the transportation sector.

The purpose of the rule is to curb carbon pollution from these sources, which have surpassed electricity-generating power plants as the greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Under the rule, states must report their carbon dioxide emission totals and submit targets for reducing them to the Highway Administration.

Bu in January, two days after the Highway Administration issued its final greenhouse gas rule, Donald Trump was inaugurated. It was on that day that then-and-now-exiled White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus issued a 60-day freeze on all rules that had been published in the Federal Register but had not gone into effect. Hundreds of rules were left in limbo, including the one governing greenhouse gases.

Sixty days passed, during which time the Highway Administration twice postponed the date for the rule to become effective. In May, the agency suspended the rule altogether. It gave no public notice about the revocation of the greenhouse gas standard, nor did it solicit public comment — which the plaintiffs argue, violated the Administrative Procedure Act.

In their complaint to the court, the plaintiffs argue that under the APA an agency must provide public notice and allow public comment prior to formulating, amending or repealing a rule. Suspension of a rule’s effective date “is tantamount to amendment or repeal of the rule. Such suspensions must therefore be preceded by notice and comment,” the complaint reads.

The Highway Administration argues that it would have been “impractical” to seek public comment on the rule suspension, “as well as contrary to the public interest in the orderly promulgation and implementation of regulations.” In what has become a familiar refrain within the Trump administration, the agency indicated that it would be publishing a notice of proposed rulemaking on the greenhouse gas measure “in the coming weeks” and that the public would have an opportunity to comment on the measure “in the near future.”

Transportation is the largest single source of carbon pollution — representing more than a third of all U.S. carbon emissions. (2017 is on track to become the second-hottest year on record, a byproduct of climate change caused by global increase in greenhouse gases.) On-road vehicles are also responsible for 38 percent of US emissions of nitrogen oxides and 14 percent of the nation’s emissions of volatile organic compounds, which in turn contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, commonly known as smog.

Because of their large numbers, passenger cars and light trucks generate most of the carbon dioxide in transportation. Fuel economy, mass transit, even urban planning could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Semi-trucks rank second in carbon pollution. A 2007 NC State presentation to the EPA forecast that improvements, such as anti-idling rules and lighter loads, could reduce carbon emissions from 18-wheelers by 28 percent.

Environment, Trump Administration

With public comment period, EPA takes first step in striking the key Waters of the US rule

A wetland, key to filtering pollutants and sponging up floodwaters (Photo: LearnNC.org)

Some wetlands, intermittent streams and other small but important bodies of water could be polluted with impunity if the EPA fully rescinds the Waters of the US rule. The agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers yesterday opened a public comment period on the repeal. Next, the EPA would begin to overhaul the definition of what could be regulated under the federal Clean Water Act.

The EPA enacted WOTUS, as it’s known, in June 2015. After 31 states, including North Carolina, and agricultural interest groups sued, the Sixth Circuit Court issued a stay of the rule, and it has not gone into effect. Gov. Roy Cooper withdrew North Carolina from the lawsuit earlier this year, because President Trump had already signaled his plan to rescind WOTUS.

WOTUS would clarify the waterways to be regulated under the Clean Water Act. This doesn’t sound particularly controversial, except that economic development and agricultural interests oppose it. Farmers could no longer allow runoff from fields and livestock operations into certain waterways where they could before; builders couldn’t dump their fill there.

Opponents of WOTUS claim — erroneously — that all waters, even man-made ditches, would be subject to federal regulations. However, the updated list would include only tributaries, streams, wetlands, etc. that feed already-regulated waters.

The environmental concern is that without WOTUS, drinking water sources, such as the Cape Fear River, could be further threatened by pollution from these unregulated sources. Wetlands, for example, are key not only for wildlife habitat, but they help filter pollution and prevent flooding.

Opponents also assert that WOTUS is an example of federal overreach; they say states should determine what to regulate and to what extent. However, waterways know no political boundaries, and one state’s laxness can conflict with another’s stricter requirements; this is why federal standards are necessary.

Exhibit A has occurred here in North Carolina. In Canton in the western part of the state, Evergreen Packaging has polluted the Pigeon River, which flows into Tennessee. In 2010, North Carolina approved a discharge permit that the EPA said was too lenient. (Clean Water for North Carolina, one of the plantiffs in a lawsuit over the discharge, has a comprehensive and sordid history on its website.

The 30-day comment period opened yesterday and continues through Aug. 28. The Federal Register has the full text of the rule and more background info, along with instructions on how to comment either online, by fax or mail.